Activated charcoal is carbon which has been heat treated to alter its pores, thereby increasing its surface area and making it more efficient for adsorption and chemical reactions.
Charcoal biscuits were popular in 19th century England, and were used to help relieve flatulence. Activated charcoal tablets are still a popular indigestion and flatulence remedy sold over the counter today. They work because the complex chemistry of the carbon attracts and absorbs molecules of gas, toxins and poison in the intestines.
Activated charcoal is used medically to treat drug overdoses and poisoning, although it is not effective for some types of poisons.
As a home remedy, charcoal can be used to help prevent bloating and trapped wind. It can also be used as an effective toothpaste, and some evidence suggests that it can speed recovery from over-indulgence in alcohol.
Some people believe that activated charcoal can be taken in order to act as an all round detoxifier for the body, and as a tonic. Tablets can be mixed to a paste with vegetable oil and applied to bites and stings, and some people even like to use it as part of a skin cream.
There is some early evidence to suggest that activated charcoal may help to reduce levels of cholesterol in the body.